Anchors are the associations made in our minds between a feeling and a sensory experience. They are one of the methods our mind utilizes to learn from and understand the world around us. Associations are formulated in our unconscious mind, leaving the process of the association itself separate from our conscious deliberate thought. Though unintentional to our conscious mind, there are rules which govern the formulation of anchors in our unconscious minds, hidden deep within the background of our daily lives.
One way through which anchoring associations are generated is when events or experiences occur closely together in space and time. As a method for understanding the world around us, it can be understood that when we see a flash of lightning in the sky, a thunderous clap of thunder is likely to follow. Experience has taught us that thunder and lightning are both elements of a stormy sky. Though one may be present without the other, our perceptions have created the association of a flash of lightning followed by a rumble of thunder. This association is any easy one to make, particularly since they are both related in nature.
Our unconscious minds can make associations which occur closely together in time which are not intrinsically related, though in our experience the anchor can be just as strong if not more so. To illustrate the application of this concept in psychology, let us refer to the classic study of Little Albert. In this experiment, Little Albert was a young child exposed to a loud noise when introduced to a white lab rat. The loud noise stimulated the startle response which resulted in Little Albert becoming fearful. Repeated exposures of Little Albert to the rat followed by a loud noise quickly created an association in his mind: the appearance of a white rat is closely followed by a loud noise. This, in turn, resulted in Little Albert developing a phobic response to whenever he saw the white rat. The loud noise was not needed as the association was created and reinforced in his mind. The end result was an anchor formation in Little Albert’s unconscious mind that white lab rats are scary and dangerous.
This principle is a basic component in the development of a phobia, and the law governing it is referred to as the law of contiguity. When an object or experience evokes a negative emotional response, such as fear, a phobic anchor can be developed. For Little Albert, the rat and the noise are now intrinsically linked even though this is not an association most of us will experience. The more frequently this association occurs, the stronger the anchor. It can be understood then why someone might develop a phobia of otherwise non-threatening objects or situations. And because this anchor is being created in the unconscious mind, we are oblivious to its formation.
Another way in which associations are created can be explained through the law of similarity. Viewing a picture or drawing of a loved one can evoke strong memories of the person being depicted. Though the person you are remembering is 1,000 miles away, this object depicting their likeness can evoke emotions not unlike those experienced when meeting them face-to-face.
Returning to the observation of Little Albert, an unforeseen consequence which can be explained by this law occurred. Little Albert’s fear of the loud noise not only became anchored to the white lab rat but it eventually generalized to several other objects which were similar to the white furry beast, including a rabbit, a dog, and even a mask of Santa Claus whose beard was composed of white cotton balls. Here, items which were similar to the initial white lab rate were now included in Little Albert’s association with fear.
Now that we have explored anchoring and a couple of the laws which might influence the formation of associations, we will explore the healing role therapists can play through hypnosis in part three.
By: Jason Krause